Ever Forward’s Maryland Pilot Permanently Surrenders License
The pilot who was guiding the Ever Forward when the containership grounded in the Chesapeake Bay in March 2022 has permanently surrendered his Maryland pilot license in a settlement agreement. The Maryland Board of Pilots accepted the settlement bringing to close two pending matters with the board regarding the conduct of Steven Germac contributing to the grounding of the 11,850 TEU containership. This settlement comes weeks after Evergreen Line agreed to pay $676 thousand to aid in the rehabilitation of oysters and crabs in the bay.
Under the terms of the settlement, Germac “agrees, admits, and consents” to violating the statutes for his profession “by failing to use all available means to monitor the position of the Ever Forward while piloting it … and by failing to recognize the incorrect vessel position display in time to avoid the grounding.”
The Maryland Board of Pilots and German agreed to settle the matters by his offer to surrender his license and agreeing that he will never reapply for a license. The board agreed not to impose further penalties which could have included a $2,000 civil monetary penalty or an official reprimand. There were two pending matters awaiting hearings resulting from the grounding. One pertained to the previous temporary suspension of Germac’s license and a second disciplinary action based upon his role in the Ever Forward grounding.
The settlement does not specifically address the findings in the U.S. Coast Guard report, which said that the pilot was not making full use of the ship’s systems, instead using a personal positioning device. Investigators reviewed the vessel’s Voice Data Recorder and found that Germac was also talking on his cell phone, texting, and sending emails during the transit from Baltimore on the Chesapeake. They concluded that he was distracted using the phone or texting for about half of 126 minutes after the vessel left the terminal in Baltimore till it grounded. He was writing an email when the vessel failed to make a critical turn into the Lower Craighill Channel.
In addition to the settlement with the former pilot, the Maryland Board of Pilots enacted a rule change in January 2023 that forbids on-duty pilots from using their phones. The board did not have a cell phone policy at the time of the grounding.
Because the Ever Forward was a foreign-flagged vessel sailing in Maryland coastal waters at the time of the grounding, the pilot was operating on his state license. The U.S. Coast Guard investigated the incident and submitted its report but lacked direct authority to discipline the pilot. Among its recommendations, the Coast Guard however urged that vessel owners and marine operators develop and implement effective policies outlining the use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices.
The Ever Forward remained stuck for 35 days in the Chesapeake becoming a tourist attraction. After initial efforts to free the ship failed, they were required to dredge the area and remove approximately 500 containers before an armada of tugs was finally able to free the ship on a seasonal high tide.